Saturday, October 27, 2012

Learning How To Fall Gracefully On My Ass Again

A lot can change in a month...

Not sure if I mentioned it, but as of this upcoming Monday, I will be my grade-level chair. I am excited, and I am scared as hell. My predecessor is Amazing, and yes, that is with a capital 'A'. I owe her my first year of teaching. Without her guidance and her blunt, but kind advice, who knows what kind of haphazard hack I would be? Her leadership has been crucial during this school year, as our team is not the same "dream team" that it was last year. Though from her perspective, she struggled with our new teammates, I didn't see her break a sweat over it. Yet, I have, and probably, will continue to.

While our team is no where near where it should be, my predecessor was working hard on getting it to be the best it could be. She was diplomatic and personable. Folks who know me personally, is "diplomatic" a word that could be used to describe me? No. "Personable" is not it either. The common adjectives for me when I get into work mode are: "brusque", "blunt", "neurotic" know words that describe "bossy", "know-it-alls", who are "controlling" and "Type A". I can't honestly reject any of these descriptors. I mean, just last night when I went to dinner with friends/co-workers, I was told there was word out in the hallways that I am a "duty Nazi". True. I've been a grade-A, stone-cold heifer about being present during lunch and doing what needs to be done.

Incompetency doesn't work for me or with me. Mediocrity is just plain unacceptable. Go hard, or go home. I have always operated with this in mind. If it is worth my time to do it, let's, you know, do it! If I'm at the school working my ass off for these students, and I care the world and more about them, then so should my fellow teachers. Otherwise, what the hell are you there for?

With that in mind, this is how I've been operating as a team member. If you are not carrying your weight to get the job done, then I will let you know it, in no uncertain terms. However, leaders can't do this. I can't just criticize and leave it alone. I have to lead by example and by a willingness to help. I've got the first part down. The second part, I'm still working on, especially with some of my teammates, which is why I'm scared as hell.

I'm not my predecessor. I'm not as graceful in speech, as diplomatic, or as personable. I'm a "weirdo" socially. I stutter frequently when I speak. I'm blunt. I'm a "Type A" when it comes to what I'm passionate about, which  in this case, is working with these students. After much reflection last night, I've pinpointed my problem...

I'm afraid of failure. I feel like I'm back in my second semester of college, when I felt like I was staring down a barrel of a gun, when I was on the verge of failing Calculus II. I was an anxious, nasty mess that drove me to horrible depths physically and psychologically. In fact, I remember a doctor's appointment I went to during this time when my blood pressure was so high that they were about to admit me to the hospital. That's when I realized that I had major anxiety issues.

The turning point for me during my low point? When I finally failed the damn course. I realized that my life didn't end, I was still in college, and I didn't lose all of my scholarships. I was okay. After that first failure, I learned a lot. I revamped my schedule and how I did things, so that I wouldn't fail the course again, and you know what? I passed Calculus II the second go round with an "A".  After that course, I was dealt many more hurdles, and I definitely failed to jump some of those hurdles. I continued (and still do continue) to battle with anxiety, but I always had that first failure to remind me that life goes on and many times, gets better.

I'm nowhere near my low point. I'm nervous, yes, but not to the point where I need medication or need to see a therapist. I think that my nervousness comes from the fact that it's been a long time since I had a honest fall on my ass. Since the end-of-the-year test scores came out last year, I've been on a string of BIG wins: graduated from graduate school, department chair, a relatively smooth beginning of my school year...and the list goes on with small wins.

Not only do I need to learn how to fall on my ass again, it needs to happen gracefully. In other words, without becoming the nasty, anxious mess. I can see the nasty, anxious mess happening in the face of a failure. I love my job, and I fiercely support my school community. We are a small community, so any bit of leadership is a big deal. My predecessor did an awesome job, and more than anything, I don't want to screw up what she did. I want to become my own person as a grade-level chair, while building upon what she started. More than anything, I want to do right by the students. As the grade-level chair, I set the standards, I  execute ideas on what it takes to get our students excited about school and about being in on hall, I facilitate the conversations that need to happen to make things happen. I'm scared to take on this new role, and simultaneously excited and grateful that my administrators thought enough of me to give me the chance to take on this role!

Here's to learning how to fall gracefully on my ass and picking myself up and making myself better!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Going Back to Grad School?

Quick update: I didn't see my personal trainer on Wednesday for a damn good reason: I was getting prepared for my last minute sub because right as my planning period began, I was invited to go to a conference with the admin team! By the way, it was awesome! I came away with many great ideas to implement in my classroom (and validation for many of the ones I already use) and inspiration!

I've been talking about getting close to seeing the light, and I'm pretty sure I've got it right here. Yes, it is more grad school, and more to the point, more GSU, but this seems different to me. Don't know why, but it does. Perhaps it's because this will help pave them path onto the next thing unlike the MAT, which was the end of my last long-term goal. This particular degree is the beginning of the next long-term goal, which sad to say, I'm not ready to announce yet, because I still don't know what the hell it is.

I can say with certainty that I don't see myself teaching full time in 5-10 years. I'm not a 30-year teacher. Never have been one. Not to knock those who, but I'm too ambitious to settle here and say that I've made it, which explains my end-of-grad-school malaise. I set the goal about 3-4 years ago to become a teacher and complete my MAT to become a fully credentialed teacher. Ta da! I did it. Now what?

Here's the what: I believe whole-heartedly that things happen for a reason (beyond the immediate ones). There is a reason for me being on the new teacher induction committee; there is a reason for me being a department chair; there is a reason why I'm increasingly being asked to take on leadership roles without asking for them; and there is a reason why sometimes my first reaction in certain situations at work is to step up and take the wheel. Is this adding on work and stress to my life? Yes, but it feels good and more to it, it feels right. This is the same feeling I had when I realized that all signs were pointing towards a career in education. It's also the same feeling I had when I figured out what I was supposed to be doing in education: teaching.

Let me put this out here now. I'm not just doing this for an increase in pay or to put another achievement on my resume. There are many other things I could be doing right now that would make me a crap-ton more money and prestige. I chose to teach, because, among other reasons, I truly believe that a great education is the key to many doors in life. Coming from a fairly humble background, I received a kick-butt education. Why shouldn't other kids like me? I believe that my career choice is all about sharing what I have earned, which is a lot. I truly hope that at the end of my teaching career, some of my students can say that my sharing my love of learning and knowledge has inspired them to do ________, and they, in turn, share what they earn to inspire others. However, I can only share so much in my classroom. Once I learn how to effectively share on a larger scale, the classroom won't be enough.

My first love will always be the classroom, and for now, it's my only love. However, I like what I'm seeing outside the classroom, so I want to explore that for a bit, and who knows what can happen from there. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Week 8, Take 2!

This week, I'm going to aim to be more education-focused in my discussion than I was last week. I actually have more to say about my teaching life this week, anyway, so that shouldn't be a problem. Where to start?

Principal "Insane"? Hell no, this is not happen today, tomorrow, or next year, but perhaps maybe a leadership position. Ask me at this point last year if I would ever consider leadership role or a role in education administration, I would have emphatically said no. Again, what a difference a year makes! This year with a taste of sanity and leadership under my tongue, hmm. Perhaps, maybe. Quite frankly, I really like the taste, but not for power or pay. In fact, I get no pay bump in my role on our school's new teacher induction committee. However, I am loving the fact that I have a more powerful voice and authority to exact change to the benefit our of school's culture and our school's students. 

In the context of my recent teaching-based "quarter-life crisis", I'm starting to see the light, or the next moves. I've always known a Master's wouldn't be enough for me. In whatever I chose to do, I knew that I would have to go hard or not do it. Now that I've chosen education as career path (and more than that really, one of my life's passions), I have to go hard, which means I have to go back. Not necessarily to GSU, but somewhere good to where I can be the best ________ I can be. What goes in the blank? Dean of Students? Dean of Curriculum and Instruction? Principal? Who knows? All I know is that I'm starting to see light, and I couldn't be happier. 

Leading the "Newbies"/Being a Mentor: As I've mentioned, I'm on the new teacher induction committee, which I'm loving. I get to help the new teachers, and peek in on the "new" teachers to get new ideas and strategies from "new" perspectives to the school. In addition to this, I have been given a teaching intern (i.e. part-time student teacher). No, I didn't ask for this person, and the fact that this person's COE even allowed him/her to be with a second-year teacher is absurd...but I digress! 

Since I have had this person, I've had to temper myself and realize that not everyone had the same experiences as I did. My student teaching experience was definitely not the typical experience. Not to toot my horn too loudly, but I'm awesomeness academically and when it comes to work-related stuff. Like I've said, I've been taught to either go hard or go home, so I go hard. I give 110%. Mediocrity tends to upset me, whether its from myself or from others. However, my perception on what is mediocre is different from what other perceive. When I was asked as a teaching fellow to take on a lesson, I threw myself into wholeheartedly. It's what scored me my current job. However, when I tasked my intern with two things, I got back an email full of "I'll do my best to....However..." and "I'll try...". To be honest,  I saw flames. What the hell do you mean "[you] will try"? No, seriously. "I'll do my best" should never be followed by "however". 

After taking a step back, I again realized that everyone is not the overachiever that I am nor should they be. This is a senior in college. While I'm not that far removed, a year of teaching has matured me a bit. I was every bit as overwhelmed, and quite frankly, nervous as this character. I worried about meeting my mentor teacher's expectations and I worked everyday to make sure that she saw my value. I think this person has down the worry part, but not so much the latter part, because he/she is so damn nervous. After coming to this realization, I've decided that I really need to step up and put the "mentor" in mentor teacher. Yes, this character's first lesson plan was utter crap, but it is my job to point him/her in the right directions, so that when he/she actually teaches my class, it would be a lesson that I cringe at the entire time nor will it be one that I tell the kids to ignore. It's my job to let her/him know that every teachers feels like a deer in headlights; it's just the response to those headlights that matter. While some teachers accept being run over and fail, other teachers realize that you fight like hell and smash the incoming car. It results in a few injuries, but all in all, nothing terribly catastrophic. (What a horrible analogy!)

Movie of the Week: "Looper", duh! I don't have the time to discuss this in the detail that it deserves right now. Plus, I'm going to see it again, so I'll have something educated to say about it next week!

Gym Update: Zumba on Thursday, and PT butt-kicking Wednesday. In other words...60 minutes of cardio in last week. BUT! This week, I spent an hour getting in my weight-training AND my 25 minutes of cardio. Tomorrow will be a repeat, thank you very much!

Final Thoughts: I'm still all about seeing the nugget of success everyday. Academically-speaking, my kids are improving! Unlike last year, I'm not banging my head into a wall when they crash and burn an assignment. I write my notes to myself to modify my LP for next time, plan something new for this year, and keep it moving. "Keep calm and carry on!"